Procrastinating the steps: how to follow instructions when you just want to rush through it

Impatience with instructions is just procrastination in another form

In this case, the procrastination isn’t delay, it’s not wanting to put up with annoying instructions, details, and steps.


Procrastination is harmful deferment of an aversive task
(translation: putting off something we don’t want to do and getting burned by it later)

then, if you’re skipping instructions in order to finish more quickly and it leads to a lower grade, you’re procrastinating.

As I discussed in an earlier post on Procrastinating on Time,  getting through work can be as challenging as starting it, and incomplete task completion is just another form of procrastination.

You did the work, why are the grades still low?

When we look over student grades in our A+ Club student support service, we often find students on the edge of a better grade, and the question becomes, well, you handed in your work, why do you still have a C+? Nine times out of ten, it’s low scores for incomplete work.  And often it’s classwork.

There you are, sitting in class, everything’s spelled out for you, and you got a 28/40: let’s be honest about it: you just didn’t feel like dealing with it so you rushed through and just handed in something.

Details, details details: classic procrastination

Another thing we hear from students all the time is, “That teacher is a nit-picker” or “I can never do what she wants me to do.”

What the student is saying here is one of two possibilities:

1. I don’t understand the teacher expectations; or
2. I don’t feel like doing what the teacher wants me to do.

The first instance is easy: clarify and act on it. The second, well, there’s that procrastination thing: facing an aversive task such as following stupid instructions, you avoid it and skip through the work just to get it done.

It’s classic procrastination.

The urge to procrastinate follows anxiety, to which the procrastinator’s response is avoidance — putting it off to tomorrow (a negative coping strategy). When we face tedious instructions in an assignment, we feel that same anxiety and the same urge to avoid it all. Especially in class, it manifests by rushing through the work in order to get it over with, and worry about the grade later.

I get it, though

I really do: so much of what teachers ask students to do, especially when it’s a matter of process — how to do it, exactly and follow these instructions, dammit — is irrelevant, annoying, and boring to many students.

“Aversive” is a mild term for it.

In my life, I run into this all the time. Read the map? Forget it, I’d rather just go. Or whenever my wife orders something that needs assembly, it ends up a mess on the floor, all wrong, and I’m getting yelled at for not reading the instructions. They’re hateful and stupid and I really should just slow down and read them.

But that’s my choice: I kinda enjoy the tension over it with my wife and it’s part of our beautiful relationship. We understand each other this way: she’s a baker and I’m a cook. Bakers measure exact quantities and times; cooks just cut things up, throw it in and see what marvel comes out of the pot.

Except if you’re in school, the only choice you have is your grade. Remember, it’s your grade, not the teacher’s that’s going on your record, and you’re not going to fire that teacher much less transfer out of the class.

So our options are either ignore it and accept the consequences, or recognize why we find certain tasks aversive (“irrelevant, annoying and boring”) and develop a strategy to overcome it, especially in class.

Okay, so what’s the resolution?

So let’s employ the same strategies we use for overcoming task initiation issues as with completion:

Recognize your anxiety and the urge to procrastinate: if you find yourself getting annoyed by having to following tedious instructions, recognize that the annoyance, or anxiety actually, is there and that you don’t have to give in to it. The natural response to anxiety is to get rid of it, and the procrastinator gets rid of it by skipping it or putting it off for later. But that’s harmful to yourself, so now move to a few other steps to address your anxiety in a positive way.

Just get started: take a deep breath, read the instructions, and maybe you’ll see it’s not as bad as it seems. It even might make more sense now that you have fully identified the teacher instructions.

Time Travel: as your anxiety level rises over the tedious instructions and steps, project yourself into the future and consider how much happier you will be when the grade comes back and you got an A on this, rather than the B, C, D, or F that you’re willing to accept now that you just want to get past it.

Ask a question: if you can’t bring yourself to read through the instructions, ask your teacher. If the response is, “read it!” you can reply, “I did. I would really appreciate your help,” or something. At worst, you’ll have to read the instructions. At best, and the most likely, the teacher will walk you through it.

Will yourself: to get past the tedious, sometimes we just need to push ourselves through it. Shake it off, mark the question to return to later, or just breath deep and push through. Willpower is a muscle: use it!

Good luck, and let me know how this works for you. Your first step is to recognize the cycle of aversive (annoying) tasks << >> anxiety << >> procrastination. If you can see what is happening to  you, you are better able to correct it.

Above all, remember: do it for you and not for the teacher.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.